Music and Musicians at the Olympic Games in Athens, 1896Music and Musicians at the Olympic Games in Athens, 1896 | The Olympic Anthem | Other Works and Musical Performances | Music inspired by the Games | Bibliography | Scores | Discography
When, in 1894, Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) convened an international athletic conference at the Sorbonne, his intention was to promote among the participants the idea of reviving the Olympic Games. Moreover, it was not by chance that at the conclusion of the first day (16 June) of the conference, de Coubertin chose to have the first Delphic Hymn to Apollo performed1. The hymn had been discovered at Delphi only a year before by the French School of Archeology. Knowing of the importance of this discovery, the organizers took the best advantage of it. It offered an opportunity to combine athletics and the theme of the conference with Ancient Greece and with the central concepts of the Olympic Games, i.e., the ideals of friendship and the noble competition among nations. At the end of the conference, at the suggestion of Demetrios Vikelas (1835-1908), then President of the International Olympic Committee, it was decided to hold the first contemporary Olympic Games in Athens after two years.
The Greek government, the Olympic Committee, and the national benefactors did their utmost to ensure that Greece would rise fully to the challenge of the Games. Despite the dire economic circumstances of the Greek state during that period, everyone tried to meet the requirements of their organizational obligations toward the many foreign visitors. The event was equally significant for the Greek world of music which had a deep interest in the musical programs planned in connection with the games.
In 1895, the Organizing Committee assigned the composition of the Olympic Anthem to the poet Kostis Palamas (1859-1943), (press here to read the poem) and the composer Spyros Samaras (1861-1917). The two men were recommended by D. Vikelas, a friend of S. Samaras from their years of study in Paris, and T. Filimon, secretary general of the Greek Olympic Committee.2 The composer Dionysios Lavrangas (1860 or 1864-1941), too, was requested to compose a work to poetry by Ioannis Polemis (1862-1924). The piece by Samaras and Palamas was intended for the opening ceremony and the “Pentathlon” by Lavrangas and Polemis was intended for the official concert at the conclusion of the first day of the Games.
In his memoirs, Dionysios Lavrangas, one of the major contributors to the musical programs of the Games, vividly describes the preparations for the opening ceremony of the Games, on 25 March/ 6April 1896.
As the time of the first Olympic Games was approaching –March 1896—the Olympic Committee had assigned the musical part of the ceremonies to the Philharmonic Society. The Friends of Music Club did not have a choir nor a band and was not taken into consideration. Palamas was invited for the poem and Samaras for the music of the Olympic Anthem. Polemis and I were assigned the composition of a major symphonic poem for soloists, orchestra, band and chorus. The “Pentathlon” as it was called by Polemis, consisted of two parts. The first part described the entry of the athletes in the stadium, the sacrifice of the bull, the various athletic events; the second part was concerned with the triumph of the Olympic winners and a final hymn to Greece.
There were but a few months left before the beginning of the Games, and during that period of time I had to compose and orchestrate the music, have the parts copied and coach the choir and the soloists. In addition, I had to rehearse the Olympic Anthem with the choir, the score and parts of which had already been sent by Samaras from Milan. A truly Herculean labour. Even so, with good will and ever greater effort, I managed to bring the work to conclusion. Although I was literally exhausted by the amount of work, on the day of the inauguration, 25 March 1896, the Pentathlon and the Olympic Anthem were ready. Samaras, who had arrived in the meantime, did nothing else but pay some compliments in French, left and right, to the musicians, conduct the final rehearsal, and leave all the rest to me.
Finally, the official opening day arrived. The various provincial bands, which had arrived in Athens some days earlier on the invitation of the Committee, took their place one by one around the stadium floor, as well as the orchestra, made up of some eighty professional and amateur musicians, and the choruses standing around the conductor’s podium. When the trumpet signalled the beginning of the Games, Samaras, plump and rosy-cheeked, lifted his baton, and the anthem “Ancient Greek Spirit” reverbated with its magnificent tune striking a sympathetic chord in the patriotic souls of the thousands who filled the stadium and who in a frenzy were proudly applauding the rebirth of the ancient Olympics.
Among the provincial bands (Corfu, Cephallonia, Leukas, Laurion, and Pyrgos), the Band from Corfu with its helmeted musicians, being the oldest, was given the front place as a tribute, and it occupied a prominent position during the evening concert at the Municipal Theater as well. Yet it was not appreciated as much as it deserved, because the length of the two major potpourris it chose to perform brought the audience to the point of exhaustion and created an unfavorable climate. One by one, members of the audience left the theater complaining. When an hour and a half later, God helping, the potpourris came to an end, very few people were left in the audience. Under such psychological restlessness, the “Pentathlon”, which followed on the program, was doomed to pay the price. The handful of people that remained and heard the piece, listened carefully and perhaps even appreciated the music but, unfortunately, everyone was so tired from the preceding torture, that no one was able to applaud and everyone regarded the end of the concert as a kind of redemption.3
The Olympic Anthem
The Olympic Anthem by Spyros Samaras, which was first presented at an evening event at the Parnassos Literary Society toward the end of January of 1896, with Th. Polykratis at the piano, is doubtless the work that after 107 years is most closely identified with the idea of the Olympic Games. It remained the official anthem until 1912, when it was replaced by the triumphant march composed by the Swedish composer H. Alexanderson for the Stockholm Games. In 1920, Pierre Benoit composed an anthem for the Antwerp Games, while in 1932 Bradley Keeler’s anthem was played at the Los Angeles Games. At the Berlin Olympics in 1936 Richard Strauss composed and conducted the Olympische Hymne4, to lyrics by Robert Lubahn, subsequently adopted by the International Olympic Committee as the official anthem. This decision was soon to be repealed. In 1954, the International Olympic Committee conducted a competition for the composition of an official Anthem based on the lyrics of Pindar’s Ode to Victory.
The Committee, which was made up by Nadia Boulanger, Gian Francesco Malipiero, Pablo Casals, Dimitri Shostakovich and Carlos Chavez, awarded the first prize to the composition by the Polish composer Micha Spisak, which was played for the first time in Monte Carlo and later at the meeting of the Committee at the Sorbonne in 1955, at the opening ceremony of the Games in Melbourne in 1956, the Mediterranean Games in Barcelona in 1955 and the Winter Olympics in 1956 at Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy.
At its Tokyo meeting in 1958, the Council of the International Olympic Committee voted for a return to the “roots” and proceeded to adopt the Samaras-Palamas anthem as the official anthem for the hoisting and lowering of the flag at the Olympic Games.
From a musical point of view, Spyros Samaras was doubtless the protagonist of the Olympic Games of 1896. His admirable success throughout Europe had made him well-known in his native Greece and it was for this reason that the Committee asked him to compose the Anthem for the Olympic Games. His opera Flora mirabilis was the first of Samaras’ works to be heard in Greece, originally in Corfu on February 5, 1889 5 and later the same year in Athens for a total of 16 performances during the celebrations for the wedding of Crown Prince Constantine.
Because of the significance of the Games, many bands from the whole of Greece were invited in order to ensure the best possible rendition of the work and its celebratory character. In his memoirs, D. Lavrangas refers selectively to the bands of Corfu, Cephallonia, Leukas, Lavrion and Pyrgos. In addition to the Athens Philharmonic Society Band, other sources refer to the Athens Garrison Band, the Band of the Navy Squadron, the Artillery Band, the bands of Zakynthos, Patras, Aigion and Constantinople.6
According to Stelios Tzerbinos, not all of the bands were able to play the Olympic Anthem (among them, those from Zakynthos and Leukas) because, during rehearsals, it was discovered that “not all of them had the required cohesion”, 7 despite the fact that the music was made available in advance and Joseph Kessaris, chief conductor of the Athens Army Band, had visited and checked on the musicians 8. According to Spyros Motsenigos, “the anthem was performed with the participation of the large full orchestra of the Athens Philharmonic Society, the full orchestra of the Friends of Music Club, the wind bands of the Infantry, Artillery, and Navy, the Choir of the Athens Philharmonic Society, the choirs of the two existing music societies in Piraeus and the Choir of the German Philadelphia Club.” 9
The bands played marching through the main streets and squares of Athens early on the morning of March 25, 1896, participating in the national holiday celebrations. People began arriving at the Panathinaikon Stadium which by 2:00 p.m. was full. The bands entered the stadium and gathered in the center waiting for the official opening and the playing of the Olympic Anthem. Following the arrival of the Royal Family at 3:00 p.m. and the speech by the Crown Prince, the King, surrounded by the members of the Olympic Committee, declared the opening of the Games amidst popular cheers and applause. There followed the triumphant rendition of the Olympic Anthem under the direction of the composer Spyros Samaras. The Chorus numbered 200 voices; soloists were Demetris Tsakonas (tenor), Constantinos Vakarellis (barytone), and “Mrs” Petritsi (recitation) 10. The reception on the part of the audience was so enthusiastic that it had to be repeated under continuous applause. ( Press to hear an orchestral version of the Olympic Anthem over the Internet.).
Other Works and Musical Performances
On the evening of March 25, a concert was given at the Athens Municipal Theater featuring the Athens Philharmonic Society which played the “Pentathlon” of Dionysios Lavrangas for soloists, chorus and orchestra under the direction of the composer 11. The score and parts of this work are part of the Dionysios Lavrangas Archive which is in the possession of his family. In Lavrangas’ memoirs, referred to in the Introduction, there is a description of the reception of the piece which does not seem to have been warm by any means. The program of the concert included also the following works:
Meyerbeer: Torchlight Dance for orchestra
Samaras: The dance of the Flowers from Flora Mirabilis (conducted by the composer)
Boito: Mosaic from Mephistopheles, (performed by the Band of Corfu) and
Lavrangas: Pentathlon, Grand Symphonic Poem in 3 parts
Herald: Mr. D. Tsakonas, Chaplain: Mr. K. Vakarelis. The poems will be recited by Miss Evang. Roussos. Mr A. Karavias will accompany at the piano.
The bands of Corfu (Old Philharmonic Society), Cephallonia, Leukas, Lavrion and Pyrgos with the Corfu Band placed at a honorary first place 12, were directed by D. Lavrangas 13.
According to G. Raftopoulos 14, the Pentathlon was also performed by the Band of the Philharmonic School of Argostoli, under the direction of Francesco Nicolini, at Constitution Square on March 28, 1896. In his book, titled The Olympic Games of 1896, Nikos Politis refers to the fact that during the closing ceremonies, the olympic winners marched to the tune of Nenikikamen by Joseph Kessaris.
The musical performances had already begun long before the opening ceremony. On March 24, Easter Day, there was the unveiling of the statue of G. Averoff, the national benefactor, whose generous donation helped rebuild the Athens Olympic Stadium. During the dedication ceremony, under heavy rain, an anthem composed in honor of Averoff was performed. There followed the unveiling of the statue by Crown Prince Constantine. Apart from the opening ceremony and the concert at the Municipal Theater, A. Filippas mentions that, according to the newspaper “Nea Ephimeris”, the Leukas Band gave a concert at Omonia Square with great success 15. “On March 26, the second day of the Games, the Bands of Patras and Leukas were playing.” 16
The concert that took place on March 28, was grandiose. The newspaper “Epitheorisis” of 28 March 1896 states: “Today in the Stadium there will be a concert with 300 instruments and musical groups of the Athens Garrison, the Navy Squadron, and the bands of Athens, Zakynthos, Leukas and Patras which will play the following pieces: The Olympic Anthem by Samaras, from Gounod’s Faust, the Ouverture from Rienzi by Wagner, Boito’s Prologue to Mefistofele, Torchlight Dance by Meyerbeer, National Anthem by Mantzaras” [sic] 17. Valuable information is provided by S. Zerbinos, and, besides the names of the bands, we are informed of the names of their conductors. In 1896, the Athens Band was conducted by Spyridon Kaisaris, the United Guard of Athens Band by Joseph Kaisaris, the Navy Squadron Band by Angelos Kalamas, the Zakynthos Band, by Victor Mavrochis, the Leukas Band by Antonio Biferno, and the Patras Band by Albert Andlovich.
Kardasis also reports that on March 29 the Old Philharmonic of Corfu gave a concert at Constitution Square and (that) on March 31, “there was a torchlight procession of some 6,000 people marching through the streets of the capital with nine different bands accompanying.”18. Moreover, A. Filippas describes that the Lefkas Band in splendid costumes and beautiful appearance under the direction of Antonio Biferno 19 performed at squares in Neon Faliron and Piraeus.
The facts we have described, provide only an incomplete picture. Further research in newspaper articles of the period and other sources would shed light on certain hidden or unknown aspects.
Music inspired by the Games
In attempting to piece together the repertoire of works which were performed at the time of the Games and on the basis of the collections available in the Music Library “Lilian Voudouri,” mainly books and musical scores, (which will be referred to later on ), we distinguish three notable Greek works:
The Olympic Anthem by S. Samaras,
“Pentathlon” by D. Lavrangas, played at the concert of the Athens Municipal Theatre
The March of the Olympic Winners titled “Nenikikamen” by Joseph Kaisaris which was played at the Panathinaikon Stadion during the parade of the athletes at the closing ceremony.20
Included in the Library’s collections are also the following works, whose titles and composers are in some way connected to the Olympic Games of 1896.
Spyridon Samaras, The Olympic Anthem, 1896, dedicated to His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Constantine. (Athens: Deanworth and Cavadis)
The score which bears no date, but belongs to that period, is written for a four-voice male chorus and piano. The Library also has an unpublished instrumental version bearing the inscription “I. Kamilieris. Athens 1954”, which possibly refers to an instrumentalist or the copyist.
Spyridon Kaisaris, Marche des Jeux Olympiques 1896 pour piano op.51 (Athens: Deanworth and Cavadis).
Spyridon Kaisaris (1857-1946), took part in the Olympic Games as the Director of the Athens Band and it is quite possible that this March was played during the parade by its members. The undated version is for piano since this was the most popular type of publication at the time.
Joseph Kaisaris, Olympia, March for piano. op. 92 (Athens, Z. Veloudios)
Joseph Kaisaris (1845- 1923), Spyridon’s brother, was director of the United Guard of Athens Band, which participated in the Games. T. Kalogeropoulos states that he composed the piece titled “Nenikikamen” in honor of Spyros Louis, winner of the Marathon 21which must be identified with the March of the Olympic winners. According to N. Politis it was played during the parade of the Olympic Winners at the closing ceremony.
Andreas Seiler, Olympic Celebration for piano. Dedicated to the Great Patriot and Benefactor of Greece, G. Averoff, (Filokalos Penelope).
From the Cover notations “S. Christidis” and “From the Office of Penelope Filokallos, across from the New Theater”, we concluded that the edition was done in Contantinople. Andreas Seiler (1830 or 1834 – 1903) was director of the Piraeus Band 22, while he had also been director of the Athens Philharmonic Society. The piece is dedicated to the great benefactor George Averoff. It is not known whether the piece was played during the unveiling of his statue at the stadium.
We cited here yet another musical work, the score of which is in the library’s collections and which is connected indirectly with the Olympic Games as was mentioned earlier. It is the first Delphic Hymn to Apollo, written in 128 b.C. by Athinaios and it was not discovered until 1893 by the French School of Arheology in Delphi. The title of the edition reads as follows:
Hymne Delphique a Apollon (Musique decouverte a Delphes en 1893, pendant les fouilles executees par l’Institut Archeologique Francais d’Athenes). Traduit, complete, et arrange a Athenes par Louis Nicole, execute pour la premiere fois dans l’Institut Archeologique Francais d’Athenes par MMRoche, Rodios, Lascaris et Papageorges. Editeurs-Proprietaires Deanworth & Cavadis, Athenes 23
Even though research was conducted in the library of the French Archaeological School, unfortunately, nothing was found that could help us establish the date of performance or the date of publication. It is probable that the Library’s edition dates back to 1894 soon after the discovery the publishing house which was active during the decade of 1890.
All of the musical publications listed above and the works listed in the bibliography are available in the Music Library of Greece “Lilian Voudouri.”
In view of the return of the Olympic Games to their birth place 107 years later, expectations run high for both the athletic, and the surrounding cultural events. The Greeks are eagerly looking forward to hosting the Games of 2004...
1 Referred to by the author in his introductory note to the volume: Pierre de Coubertin et al. 1897: 7; for the Delphic Hymn, see Belis 1992.
2 In respect to the longlasting battle between the adherents of the “pure” vs. the “popular” form of modern Greek, which was then at its height, the selection of Palamas as poet of the Olympic Anthem was clearly a success for the “popular” faction.
3 Διονύσιος Λαυράγκας [D. Lavrangas], Απομνημονεύματα [Memoirs], (Athens: Govostis): 101-103.
5 Λεωτσάκος 1991, vol. 9: 171-172.
6 Φίλιππας 1985, vol. A: 172.
7Τζερμπίνος 1966: 65-68.
8 op.cit.: 68.
9 Μοτσενίγος 1958: 334. His source probably is the Ιστορία της νεοελληνικής μουσικής [History of Modern Greek Music] by Th. Synadinos , where these ensembles are referred to for the first time. Cf. Συναδινός 1919: 175, n. 2.
10 Μοτσενίγος 1958: 334.
11 A reading by the poet had taken place before a small audience of literary scholars on 18 February. The work was performed by a symphony orchestra and chorus at an evening of music and literature at the Athens Municipal Theater; see Politis: 108.
12 Μοτσενίγος 1958: 334.
13 Ραυτόπουλος 1991: 75.
14 op.cit.: 77.
15 Φίλιππας 1985: 176-7.
16 Καρδάσης 2002: 162.
17Φίλιππας 1985: 177
18 Καρδάσης 2002: 164 and 166
19 Cf. Καλογερόπουλος 1998, vol. 4: 269.
20 This fact is mentioned both in Linardos 2000 and Politis 1996. Linardos also states that the score of the march is available in the library of ELIA (Hellenic Literary and Historic Archives), Athens. However, a recent search in that library did not confirm its availability there.
21 Καλογερόπουλος 1998, vol. 2: 503.
22 Καλογερόπουλος 1998, vol. 6: 278.
23 The music was discovered in Delphi in 1893, during excavations by the French Archeological Institute, completed and edited by Louis Nicole in Athens, and performed for the first time at the French Archeological Institute by Messrs. Roque, Rodios, Laskaris and Papageorgos. Publishers: Deanworth & Kavadis, Athens.
Ιστορία του Ελληνικού Έθνους [History of the Greek Nation] (Athens: Ekdotiki Athinon, 1977), vol. 14
Τάκης Καλογερόπουλος [T. Kalogeropoulos], Το λεξικό της Ελληνικής Μουσικής [The Dictionary of Greek Music] (Athens: Yallelis, 1998)
Βασίλης Καρδάσης [V. Kardassis], Οι Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες στην Αθήνα 1896-1906 [The Olympic Games in Athens 1896-1906] (Athens: Ephesos, 2002)
Διονύσιος Λαβράγκας [D. Lavrangas] , Απομνημονεύματα [Memoirs] (Athens: Govostis, s.a.)
Γιώργος Λεωτσάκος [G. Leotsakos], «Σαμάρας, Σπυρίδων-Φιλίσκος» [Samaras, Spyridon-Filiskos], in Παγκόσμιο Βιογραφικό Λεξικό [World Biographical Dictionary], ed. G. A. Christopoulos & I. K. Bastias (Athens, Ekdotiki Athinon 1991)
Πέτρος Λινάρδος [P. Linardos], Η κληρονομιά της πρώτης Ολυμπιάδος [The Legacy of the First Olympiad], newspaper “To Vima” (October 1, 2000)
Σπύρος Μοτσενίγος [S. Motsenigos], Νεοελληνική μουσική, συμβολή εις την ιστορίαν της [Modern Greek Music: Contribution to its history] (Athens 1958)
Νίκος Πολίτης [N. Politis], Οι Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες όπως τους έζησαν τότε Έλληνες και ξένοι [The Olympic Games as they were then experienced by Greeks and foreigners] (Patras: Achaic Publications, 1996)
Γιώργος Ραυτόπουλος [G. Raftopoulos], Διονύσιος Λαυράνγκας, 1860-1941 [Dionysios Lavrangas, 1860 - 1941] (Athens: Music Society Dionysios Lavrangas, 1993)
Καίτη Ρωμανού [K. Romanou], Εθνικής Μουσικής Περιήγησις 1901-1912 [Greek National Music, 1901-1912] (Athens: Kultura, 1996)
Θεόδωρος Συναδινός [Th. Synadinos], Ιστορία της Νεοελληνικής Μουσικής [History of Modern Greek Music, 1824-1919] (Athens, 1919)
Στέλιος Τζερμπίνος [S. Tzerbinos], Φιλαρμονικά Ζακύνθου [Philharmonic Bands of Zante] (Zakynthos: Friends of Music, 1966)
Βαλεντίνη Τσελίκα [V. Tselika], Ολυμπιακοι Αγώνες 1896, Το Φωτογραφικό Λεύκωμα του Αλμπερτ Μάγιερ [The Olympic Games 1896: The photographic album of Albert Meyer] (Athens, Exandas-Benaki Museum, 1995)
Αντώνης Φίλιππας [A. Filippas], Φιλαρμονική Λευκάδος: ιστορική πορεία 135 χρόνων [The Band of Lefkas: a history of 135 years] (Athens: Society of Lefkas Studies, 1985)
Δημήτριος Χαμουδόπουλος [D. Hamoudopoulos], Η ανατολή της έντεχνης μουσικής στην Ελλάδα και η δημιουργία της εθνικής σχολής [The dawn of art music in Greece and the creation of the National School] (Athens, 1980)
Annie Belis, Corpus des inscriptions de Delphes,, Tome III, Les hymnes a Apollon (Paris: Boccard, 1992)
Hans-Dieter Krebs, Olympic Anthems (www.olympic.org/upload/bews/olympic_review/review_20021912472_UK.pdf)
Spyridon P. Lambros & Nikolaos G. Polites, The Olympic Games B.C. 776 – A.D. 1896, First Part, The Olympic Games in Ancient Times (London: Grevel, 1896)
Pierre de Coubertin, Timoleon J. Philemon, Nikolaos G. Politis, Charalambos Anninos, The Olympic Games B.C. 776 – A.D. 1896, Second Part, The Olympic Games in 1896 (London: Grevel, 1897)
Σπυρίδων Σαμάρας [S. Samaras], Ολυμπιακός Ύμνος (Hymne Olympique) 1896, Εις Α. Β. Υψηλότητα τον Διάδοχον Κωνσταντίνον [Olympic Anthem, 1896, Dedicated to His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Constantine] (Athens: Deanworth & Cavadis)
Σπυρίδων Καίσαρης [S. Kaisaris], Marche des jeux Olympiques 1896 pour piano op. 51 (Athens: Deanworth and Cavadis)
Ιωσήφ Καίσαρης [J. Kaisaris], Ολύμπια, εμβατήριον δια κλειδοκύμβαλον, εργ. 92 [Olympia, march for piano, op. 92] (Athens: Ζ. Veloudios)
Α. Ζάϊλλερ [Andreas Seiler], Ολυμπιακή Πανήγυρις δια κλειδοκύμβαλον, [Olympic Panegyric for piano] (Filokalos Pinelopi)
Hymne Delphique a Apollon, Traduit, complete et arrange a Athenes par Louis Nicole [Translated, completed and arranged at Athens by Louis Nicole] (Athens: Deanworth & Kavadis)
Σπύρος Σαμάρας [S. Samaras], Ολυμπιακός ύμνος [Olympic Anthem] (Motivo 1055, 1999), Χορωδία Τυπάλδου, Συγκρότημα μουσικής δωματίου Νικόλαος Μάντζαρος
Αθηναϊκή Φιλαρμονία, Ύμνος εις την Ελευθερίαν, Εθνικός ύμνος, Ολυμιακός ύμνος, Εμβατήρια [Athinaiki Philharmonia, Hymn to Freedom, National Anthem, Olympic Anthem, Marches] ( Δήμος Αθηναίων Πολιτισμικός Οργανισμός/Sakkaris records PR. SR 210, 1996), Αθηναϊκή Φιλαρμονία, Χορωδία Εμπορικής Τραπέζης, Σ. Μπερής
Η Ελλάδα ποτέ δεν πεθαίνει [“Greece never dies”] (Δήμος Αθηναίων Πολιτισμικός Οργανισμός/Sakkaris records PR. SR 295), Αθηναϊκή Φιλαρμονία, Χορωδία Εμπορικής Τραπέζης, Σ. Αλεξανδράτος